VE-Day – Victory in Europe Day – marked the end of the fighting for First Canadian Army and the liberation of the Netherlands. No more bombs would fall on German cities, the artillery on the Western Front was silenced, and the killing stopped at death camps like Auschwitz and Dachau. But the war was not yet over. The fighting continued in the Pacific and would not stop until the Americans dropped two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in early August 1945. And for the Canadians in the Netherlands, there was still much to do.

“Sappers of the Royal Canadian Engineers (R.C.E.), 5th Canadian Infantry Brigade, examining equipment left behind by retreating German soldiers, Holten, Netherlands, 9 April 1945.” Photo: Lieutenant Daniel Guravich. Courtesy of Library and Archives Canada, 1967-052 NPC. 

On 5 May 1945, General Charles Foulkes, as the commander of 1 Canadian Corps, accepted the surrender of German forces in the Netherlands at the Hotel de Wereld in Wageningen. He was faced with a number of difficult issues. With only 25,000 Canadian troops under his command, he was now responsible for 125,000 German soldiers. These men would have to be fed and controlled. Foulkes was also responsible for making sure the Dutch were fed. It was a big job.

“Canadian Lieutenant-General Charles Foulkes (left), commander of the 1st Canadian Corps, talks with Prince Bernhard of The Netherlands before dictating the surrender terms to the Germans on May 5 at Hotel de Wereld, Wageningen, Netherlands, 5 May 1945.” Photo: Alex Stirton. Courtesy of  Library and Archives Canada, a116820.

Foulkes made the decision to treat the Germans as “capitulated troops” rather than “prisoners of war.” This may seem like a small semantic distinction, but it meant the Germans remained under their own commanders and were responsible for feeding themselves. If they had been treated as POWs, the Canadians would be responsible for feeding them. As there was not enough food to go around, it was more important to feed the Dutch first. “If there was any shortage of food,” Foulkes stated, “the Germans went short.”

Foulkes also recognized in 1945 that there was something different about this engagement: “I sincerely hope that those good relations established in Holland between the Canadian troops and the Dutch people may continue, and that we may foster between that hard working, long-suffering population, a bond of friendship for Canada. We have very much in common.” It is no wonder the Dutch and the Canadians have shared a special relationship over 75 years.

To learn more about the Aftermath of Liberating the Netherlands, click here.